Thursday, April 17, 2008
Suddenly, as the concert begins, Keith Richards strums the first few chords of the masterful “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and as Jagger comes running out on stage the image on the screen expanded to its full capacity. We were all tricked, purposely by the genius of Scorsese, who takes time to deliver such marvelous thrills, spending wondrous chills right up our spines.
Clooney takes a break from his seriousness (Michael Clayton, Syriana) and returns to his wacky-comedy alter ego (O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Intolerable Cruelty) that he seems to enjoy so much. The problem with Leatherheads is that he embraces his light-hearted flare too much, leaving us with an afterthought of a film.
Clooney is Dodge Connelly, one of the few remaining men in pro football that take the sport seriously. To spice things up he recruits a star college football (a sport that is wildly popular) player who also happens to be a war hero. John Krasinski doesn’t dive far from his Office Jim persona but he brings a little to the table. I have high hopes for Krasinski; he just needs a role with a little more edge.
Renée Zellweger is the sassy sports writer who comes between the two men, playing both sides and falling for each of them. She spits fire at Clooney, who throws it right back in the form of tired, reused lines that they hope come off as clever.
The football scenes don’t add much excitement, neither do the constant, over-the-top bar fights. But Clooney isn’t going for blood and tears; he wants to make people laugh with his throwback.
According to IMDB, Clooney will next direct a dark comedy that was written by the Coen brothers. This could be good for him, leave out the zany antics and get the shockingly offensive side of comedy. C
Saturday, April 5, 2008
Director Robert Luketic ditches his chick-flick tendencies (the man has done Legally Blonde, Win a Date with Tad Hamilton! and Monster-in-Law) in an attempt to give us a youthful, refreshing take on what is becoming a tired genre.
Filmmakers seem to be obsessed with this idea of card playing on screen. There have been a slew of these films over the past few years, and 21 isn’t much different from any of them. Loosely adapted from Ben Mezrich's best-selling book Bringing Down the House, 21 is the semi-true story of an MIT genius who was recruited by a teacher and fellow students to lead their operation of counting cards in black jack.
The movie doesn’t really explain how to count cards, but however it’s done, these kids seem to know what they’re doing. Every weekend they fly to Vegas to make (not steal or cheat, counting cards isn’t illegal) money, to fund their recent lavish lifestyles.
Promising newcomer Jim Sturgess plays math prodigy Ben who gets the attention of one of his professors, Micky Rosa (Kevin Spacey) by using his wit and timid charm. Rosa lets Ben in on his little secret, which includes four other MIT students. And soon they are off to the strip, raking in the money by the thousands.
Sturgess (Across the Universe) seems to be fusing together two of Matt Damon’s best characters. He has the charismatic ferocity of Will Hunting from, you guessed it, Good Will Hunting and the card playing skills and accountability of Mike McDermott (from Rounders). While I doubt this is intentional, Sturgess doesn’t sweat at playing the lead, always keeping us interested and focused. Spacey has a great time as Rosa, screaming at his pupils one minute and then staring them down, speaking calmly with much vindication the next. There is nothing like a steel-cold gaze from the eyes of Kevin Spacey.
Kate Bosworth sizzles as the beauty of the group, and the new love interest of Ben. Her Jill acts as Ben’s consciousness when he gets out of control. And there in lies the problem. 21, like most rags-to-riches stories, falls victim to the predictable arch of having everything, then losing it all. Some films can pull this off (Casino comes to mind) but Luketic is no Scorsese. Instead, we get bored watching the characters lose all their money, only to set up one final, climatic score. Laurence Fishburne as a strictly old-school security enforcer helps make the final showdown more exciting, but in the end 21 is probably exactly what you expect it to be. But right now, that ain’t such a bad thing. B
It’s been nine years since director Kimberly Peirce has made a feature, not since her strikingly bold debut of Boy’s Don’t Cry. When her brother enlisted in the military after 9/11, she found inspiration in a harsh reality that lies in the fine print of an Army contract.
Ryan Phillippe plays Brandon King, a soldier who has just come home from Iraq, only to find that he is, involuntarily, being sent back. Rejecting the idea, he treks cross country, in an attempt to resolve the issue and clear up the mistake.
The men who served with him remain in their Texas town, fighting deep internal struggles of post-traumatic stress disorder, not being able to let go of the dehumanizing images they’ve seen.
Peirce is fully capable of delivering shocking images that startle yet somehow move us, she proved that with Boy’s Don’t Cry. The problem with Stop-Loss is that it aims too high. Each character gives long-winded, heartfelt speeches that often don’t hit their mark. I’m not quite sure whose fault it is, because the words feel right, the camera is well placed, but some of the action is forced.
Phillippe (much better in Crash and Flags of Our Fathers) doesn’t seem half as committed as his character is to the idea of becoming free from war. Phillippe casts his melodramatic tendencies just a bit too much, making us a little bored. Channing Tatum plays Brandon’s best friend Steve. While Tatum delivers a decent supporting turn, he isn’t given much to do except be an imposing, male-dominant figure that we’ve seen him as before (and that he pulled off in A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints). This kid has talent; he just needs the material to prove it.
That’s the bad, and if you look for it, you’ll find some good. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is another soldier from their group who is having the most trouble forgetting what he saw. Gordon-Levitt’s descent into madness by diving head first into a bottle is raw, real and emotionally powerful. He has proved himself a God of independent film, giving stunning performances in Manic, Mysterious Skin, Brick and The Lookout. He steals the show in Stop-Loss, his face one of vengeful regret. I only wish he was given more screen time. This is one of the finest actors of his generation; he’ll be around for a long, long time.
Supporting turns by Australian actress Abbie Cornish (Candy), Ciarán Hinds (There Will Be Blood), and Timothy Olyphant do not go unnoticed, but they aren’t enough to keep the movie from its repetitiveness. Peirce manages to shock (a bloody war battle could be admired for its authenticity), but she cannot escape the unsympathetic trend that audiences simply aren’t connecting with these Iraq-war films.
For my money, I’d put Phillippe in a supporting role and let the whole film rest on Gordon-Levitt’s shoulders. He has carried movies before, and he has pulled it off each time. The film would have no problem hitting its emotional arch’s, if Gordon-Levitt was doing the screaming. B-